Analysis

North Korean Missile Launch Could be US Intelligence Failure
South Koreans watch a TV screen broadcasting news about North Korea's rocket launch, at a railway station in Seoul, December 12, 2012. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
December 12, 2012
| Security
| Asia and the Pacific
Summary
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SITUATION REPORT

North Korea’s apparently successful launch early today of a three-stage rocket is a significant technical achievement that will advance its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program. The launch was a bold statement of defiance by the new North Korean leader and raises concerns about U.S. intelligence on North Korea given that it reportedly surprised U.S. officials.
Although the North Korean government claims the rocket was intended only to place a satellite into orbit, Western experts widely believe the true purpose of the launch was to test a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead as far as the U.S. West Coast or beyond. This was North Korea’s fourth alleged attempt to lift a satellite into orbit and the second this year. The timing appeared to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un. It may also have been launched to coincide with South Korea’s presidential election on December 19.
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